RV Review: Airstream Travel Trailer

Nice Accommodations for Recreation or Full-Timing

Rear of old Airstream travel trailer.
••• Ray Laskowitz / Getty Images

Some of the most durable RVs on the road are Airstream trailers, which can last 40 or more years. According to Airstream an estimated 60 to 70% of all Airstreams made are still in use today. I doubt if that's true for any other brand of RV, camper, trailer or motor home.

If you're considering a travel trailer as your RV, and especially a used one, consider this: After about 15 years most brands will be just about used up, but an Airstream will have nearly two-thirds of its life left in it.

And, in case you thought Airstream made only travel trailers, they offer two class B motor home models, too.

Airstream suggests that its RVs can hold their value equal to the original price or more. But when I checked the blue book prices current retail for our 1994 Airstream was 20 to 25% of its new value. That could be because we have an older model, or maybe the economy is affecting resale prices. A good place to check for current used RV asking prices is RV Online.

Airstream Pros

Affordability: You can buy a good, used Airstream travel trailer for under $20,000, and older ones for under $10,000 and still have many years of maintenance-free use.

Low Center Of Gravity: Airstream trailers have a low center of gravity that helps keep them stable, especially if you have to make a quick lane change or maneuver around an object in the road. Ours is so stable and smooth that I often forget I'm pulling a 34-foot, 10,000-pound (loaded) tow behind me.

Following the safety rule to check your mirrors every 30 seconds serves to remind me that I'm not just out for a Sunday drive, but am towing 5 tons behind my Excursion.

Aerodynamic: Airstreams were built to be aerodynamic from the get-go, long before fuel mileage and environment were concerns. Airstream's aerodynamic design results in far better fuel mileage than box-style and 5th wheel trailers, estimating 10 to 20% fuel savings per trip over competitors.

This aerodynamic design stabilizes the trailer helping it glide smoothly with no buffeting from headwinds. Even in high side winds about the only thing that you'll feel is a slight jolt and a little sway when passing 18-wheelers.

Quality Construction: Our 1994 Excella built-ins are made of sturdy and beautifully finished wood cabinets, not pressboard or synthetic wood. Our mattresses and cushions are original–over 15 years old–and are just beginning to show wear. The mini-blinds have held up well, we're still using the original heater and air-conditioner, microwave/convection oven, etc. After all these years, nothing is warped, and doors, drawers and all moving parts fit like a glove.

Durability: Airstreams are constructed like airplanes, with aluminum panels that are riveted together to create a durable and streamlined structure. As a camp host, my husband had the opportunity to meet owners of just about every type of RV, and to hear about the problems they were having. One such problem involved the method of sealing the side panels to the roof panel of box-type RVs. If that brace broke, especially enroute, it was all too easy for a side or roof panel to peel off. It wasn't unusual to see one of these fiberglass panels unsecured or being held on with duct tape.

Independent Torsion Axels: We have three of them on our 34-foot Airstream. I notice that many of the longer (over 34 feet) 5th wheelers and trailers have only two axels. But the independent torsion axels have their own shock absorbers and increase the amount of control you have while towing.

Weight Distribution: Airstream constructs its trailers with the greater weight distributed over the axels and balanced to improve control while towing. You do have to plan your weight distribution when packing your airstream. We put our TV, tools and heavier things over the axels and up front to balance the tongue weight with weight in our Excursion.

Environmentally Friendly: Most of the materials Airstreams are made from, aluminum, wood and steel, are completely recyclable. In Airstream's words, "Silver is Green."

Airstream Cons

Width: Some of the older airstreams are narrow inside, and might make you envy some of the roomier RVs.

Airstreams from 1995 on are about six inches wider, just enough for two people to maneuver around inside, but also just enough to affect rear-view visibility while towing, too.

Climate Control: If I could change one thing about our Airstream, I would add more insulation. It would be nice to conserve our cooling or heating a bit better.

Weight Mis-Distribution: Never, never, never let two people stand in the back (bedroom) of a long, unhitched Airstream, like we did, without putting the landing gear down. Oops! Minimal damage.

Other Airstream Considerations

New Trailer Price: While new Airstream trailers are more expensive than other RVs remember that they can last up to three times longer than most other brands. The cost drops considerably if you don't have to replace it in 15 years. And it has a better resale value than a box-model.

Social: Driving down a highway and having a fellow Airstreamer flash his lights in greeting, or the unhesitant way two Airstream owners will strike up a conversation brings camaraderie many RVers don't experience. Aside from other Airstreamers, your silver-Twinkie tends to draw interest and questions from just about anyone, not just RV-owners. One of the most common comments is, "I've always wanted one and just haven't bought it yet."

The Wally Byam Caravan Club International, complete with forum, escorted caravans, local units you can join, rallies and more is a long-established social Airstream club. Even if you're new to RVing, you can travel like a seasoned full-timer with one of their caravans.

There is also a friendly Airstream forum where you can get all your questions answered. Sign up at www.airforums.com.

Overall, we love our Airstream, and would recommend it as a solid RV built for the full-time RVer. This is our second year of full timing and we've only just begun. There's just too much to see and do, and I fully intend to outlive my Airstream.